The participation in the AMS-MAA Joint Mathematics Meeting sure got off to a smashing start. If nothing else, the storm that hit the Californian seaboard on January 4th ensured that.
I get out of bed at 3.30am, CET, not having been able to sleep particularly well at all. At 4am, I drag myself out to the taxi; which charges more to get me to the airport shuttle than the airport shuttle itself does to get me out to the airport. I don't care that much - I need the coddling at that ungodly hour.
One hour lost.
As I get up to the United checkin desks, I'm met by a slightly harried guy who asks me where I'm going, and then says that the flight has been cancelled. I get to stand in another line to get this taken care of.
Half an hour later, I am rebooked. Instead of United Airlines FRA - SFO, SFO - SAN, I fly Indian Air FRA - LAX, and then United LAX - SAN.
I check in, eat lunch and go through security without anything remarkable happening. The relevant corner of Frankfurt Flughafen rates among the most boring I have ever seen.
And then the flight arrives. Empties. And sits there.
An hour late, we get to board. And sit around waiting for another undefinable while. And then, at last, we take off.
Inflight entertainment is geared to the indian market, and distributed with individual headphones and roof-mounted TV-screens. I have seen a bunch of weird stuff, including stalkerish bollywoodial music videos and an amazing movie featuring the Panjabi rebellious girl with the traditionalist parents, who recruits a depressed stonerich kid with an inherited industrial empire as her aide in getting her big love. The movie ends happily, and predictably, but has an astounding amount of entertaining whackiness on the way there. I only wish I knew what it's called. The female lead character is called Geet at any rate...
About thrice bored-out-of-my-head later we arrive in Los Angeles. Late. I get out of the plane, through immigration (uneventful), get my luggage (another hour lost) and through customs. Heaps of kudos to the marvelously nice border police who rerouted an entire line with me at its head to the unused and undetected open customs checkers. Generosity and friendliness that warms the cockles of my heart as well as the sub-cockle-area.
Then the farce begins. I get out of the terminal to the transit desks. "Yeah, that departs too soon for us. You need to go to the terminal. Outside and then right."
I run like mad to terminal 7. Halfway there, I keel over from asthma, sleep deprivation and malnutrition. I arrive and am adviced to stand in the hedged-in line of hopeless cases. Which is being served by "Our two competent agents who are doing their best" - sorry, the empty desk.
And I stand there for an hour. I arrive in the hall in time to get on the (heavily delayed) flight I was supposed to go on. But nobody wants to take care of getting me the boarding card. I only get to speak to an agent five minutes after that flight left.
She puts me on standby for the 10.30pm to San Diego. Which would have me arrive in San Diego after over 29h of constant (and awake) travel. IF I make the flight at all, that is. I try to talk backup plans and other options, citing over and over again that United put me on Indian Air in the first place and that I need to be in San Diego by tomorrow - having both informal faculty interviews and workshops planned for that day. AND that I need to get to my hotel before they void my reservation.
She just shrugs. And gives me the phone number to the closed customer service hotlines.
I go through security on the verge of hysteria from malnutrition, sleep deprivation and a mounting panic. A TSA agent asks me what's up, and then tells me that I need to hold United to their obligations. Kudos to law enforcement in general on this trip - they have been the source of uplifting supportive comments and actions this trip.
I get through security without any problem. Dive into McDonalds. And take care of the malnutrition part. With a filled stomach, my mind works better and less panicky.
At the gate, they nod sympathetically and then give me a boarding pass. I'm IN!
And shortly after that they tell me that 10.30pm got turned into 12.15am since the machine needs to go to Santa Barbara and back before we can ride it.
Here's hoping that 500 West has all-night checkin. And that restful evening loading my batteries for the congress week kinda evaporated. Meh.